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What is Amateur Radio?

Amateur or Ham Radio is defined as the personal use of radiocommunications equipment for local and/or worldwide communications and experimentation.  In Australia there are a number of frequency bands ranging from 1.8 MHz up to 250 GHz allocated for use by amateur radio, many of these bands also being allocated for the same purposes worldwide.  Radio amateurs communicate using a number of different modes, including AM, FM, SSB, CW and digital modes such as RTTY (Radio Teletype), SSTV (Slow Scan Television), FSTV (Fast Scan Television, also known as Amateur Television or ATV), Packet and more. Various satellites dedicated to amateur radio circle the earth and NASA often operate amateur radio from the space shuttle and the International Space Station.

 

Those wishing to operate on the ham bands must undergo examination in regulations, radio theory (novice or advanced), and for some qualifications morse code (5 or 10 wpm).  This will then qualify you for one of the Australian Amateur qualifications and the appropriate station licence.  The qualification obtained governs the frequencies and output power available for use.  If you would like to know more about the amateur qualification, there are links at the end of this article to a number of sites that can offer more in depth explanations and information.

 

Of most interest to the scanner enthusiast is the amateur 2 M (144 148 MHz) and 70 cm (420 450 MHz) bands as these fall within the coverage of even the most basic scanner with the majority of use being in FM mode. In addition there is no need for special antenna or skills, just programme the frequency, connect a scanner antenna and listen!   For those that have more advanced scanners and skills and want a challenge, you can try searching the 6 M band (50 54 MHz).  FM use on 6 M is very limited, occurring in the segment 52.500 54.000 MHz.  If your scanner has SSB capabilities, try searching between 50.100 50.300 MHz and 52.100 52.300 MHz for SSB activity, although this will only usually occur when atmospheric conditions provide for signal paths to places like Japan, Hawaii, etc.  The 23 cm band (1240 1300 MHz) is also within the coverage of many scanners, but may not contain as much activity as the other bands.  Still, if you have a good outdoor antenna and live in an area with a few local hams nearby, it may be worth searching this band occasionally for any activity.

 

Each amateur band is divided into segments, with each segment allowing different modes of operation or having various operating conditions.  These are known as the amateur bandplans, and a copy of the full Australian bandplan (in pdf format) can be found on the WIA Federal website.  A list of some local frequencies of interest is below, but you may also try searching the bands in table 1 below for FM activity.

 

Local Frequencies of Interest

 

Newcastle repeaters

53.625, 146.775, 146.900, 146.975 (voice & digital), 438.625 (ATV), 438.675, 440.050.

Central Coast repeaters

146.725, 438.075.

Hunter Valley repeater

146.875

Forster/Tuncurry repeater

147.100

FM Simplex Calling

53.500, 146.500 (primary), 147.500 (secondary), 439.000, 1294.000.

 

Club news broadcasts

 

Many Amateur Radio Clubs have a regular news broadcast containing items of interest to hams, scanner & shortwave enthusiasts.  Listen to the following news broadcasts to get an idea of what ham radio is like:

 

Westlakes Amateur Radio Club weekly news broadcast on Sunday 9.00AM & 7.00PM on 146.775 (WIA news follows).

 

WIA news is broadcast weekly on Sunday 10.00AM and 7.30PM direct from Sydney on 147.000, 438.525 & 1281.750 and is relayed via 146.725, 146.775 and 147.100 (amongst other frequencies).

 

Hunter Branch Radio Group weekly news broadcast on Monday at 7.30PM on 146.900 & 438.675.

 

Scanning more than just voice

 

So, what about something other than just listening to people talk?  What else is there?  How about RTTY or SSTV??  These are digital modes used by amateurs to communicate using a computer connected to the radio, and it is easy to connect your scanner to your computer to listen to these transmissions!  Much of the newer RTTY and SSTV software allows you to use the soundcard as the interface, without the need for any special decoder, and as you are only receiving there is no need for the transmit interface either!

 

So, what is RTTY and SSTV?  Well, RTTY is Radio Teletype what you type on your computer keyboard is sent over the radio to be received by others on the frequency.  Amateurs often broadcast to large groups, or have one-on-one conversations, using this mode.  SSTV, or Slow Scan Television, uses the radio to send still pictures to others on the frequency.  Both of these modes can be received using your soundcard, a cheaply made cable to link your scanner audio out to your soundcard audio in, and a freeware programme called MMTTY and/or MMSSTV (there is other software available to do the same job, but these are the two that I have used and I know are free).  In Newcastle there is a 2 M repeater on 146.975 that is allocated for use by RTTY and SSTV as well as voice, so this is a good place to start listening for these modes.

 

Table 1 FM bands.

 

53.025 53.100

FM Simplex (Data modes).

53.125 53.525

FM Simplex.

53.550 53.975

Repeater outputs.

145.325 145.525

FM Voice.

146.425 146.600

FM Simplex.

146.625 147.375

Repeater outputs.

147.400 147.600

FM Simplex.

433.750 434.250

FM Simplex.

438.025 438.725

Repeater outputs.

438.750 439.250

FM Simplex.

439.275 439.975

Repeater outputs.

1273.025 1273.975

Repeater outputs.

1294.000 1294.975

FM Simplex.

1297.025 1300.000

FM Simplex (Data modes).

 

 

Web Links

 

There are numerous sites dedicated to the hobby of Amateur Radio, and to specific aspects of the hobby.  Just try a Google search on Ham Radio or Amateur Radio to see an endless list! The following sites will give you some information to get you started, and some links to other sites with more information.

 

http://www.qsl.net/vk2umj/haminfo1.htm

Some basic information on Amateur Radio, what it is, etc.

http://www.wia.org.au

Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA), Federal site.

http://www.wiansw.org.au

Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA), NSW Division site.

http://westlakesarc.org.au/

Westlakes Amateur Radio Club, Teralba.

http://vkham.com

VKHam excellent source of information & downloads.

http://www.qsl.net/mmhamsoft

MMHamsoft home of MMTTY & MMSSTV software.

Hi Garry,
 
With regard to the amateur radio article on the Newcastle Scan site (the one I wrote anyway..), below is a current list of nets held by Westlakes ARC that I thought may be of interest to your readers.  Perhaps you could add this list to that page?
 
Cheers
 
Martin
 
---------------------------------
 
Saturday
0600 Hrs      3.600 MHz                'Stone the Crows' net
0800 Hrs  146.775 MHz                 'EzyBee' net
 
Sunday
0900 Hrs  146.775 & 1.840 MHz     Westlakes news, followed by callbacks.
0930 Hrs  146.775 & 1.840 MHz     WIA National news, followed by callbacks.
1900 Hrs  146.775 & 1.840 MHz     Westlakes news, followed by callbacks.
1930 Hrs  146.775 & 1.840 MHz     Amateur Radio Newsline, followed by callbacks.
1930 Hrs  438.625 MHz                 '70 at 7.30' net.
 
Monday
1930 Hrs  146.775 MHz                 ARRL Broadcast.
 
Tuesday
1930 Hrs  146.775 MHz                 RTTY followed by SSTV
 
Wednesday
1900 Hrs  146.525 MHz                 'Ramblers' net.
1900 Hrs  146.425 MHz                 'Simplex' net, 2nd Wednesday of each month. 
1900 Hrs  146.775 MHz                 RSGB Broadcast.
 
Thursday
1930 Hrs  146.775 MHz                 SSTV net.
2000 Hrs  28.480 MHz (SSB)         '10 at 20' net.
 
 
** I believe the Hunter Branch net is also running:
Monday
1930 Hrs  146.900 & 438.675 MHz  Hunter Branch news and WIA news extracts

Written By scanner enthusiast Martin Howells, VK2UMJ